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A while back somebody commented that the emailed receipts from various physical stores feels like a privacy concern because they know your email. Umm… let’s take a step back and think about all the ways that you are being tracked today:

  • Do you have a credit/debit card? Each individual store you shop at is able to track all of your purchases through that card. And then on top of that, your credit card company knows a LOT about your personality, your purchasing habits, where you shop, what time of day you’re shopping, and much more. That data all gets aggregated up and most likely is sold off to advertisers etc.
  • Do you have a frequent shopper card? Why do you think that the grocery store gives you discounts if you use their frequent shopper card? It’s because they are able to make more money off of you if you know your buying habits. If everyone used their credit card every time they shopped, they wouldn’t need these cards.
  • Do you use the internet? Your internet service provider knows everything you do online unless you’ve taken steps to use encrypted sites or a VPN. But even then, almost every website you visit is dropping a tracking cookie onto your computer so they can understand your browsing habits. And have you seen things like the Facebook Like button showing up all over the web? Anytime you even view a page with a Like button, the fact that you saw it is getting sent back to Facebook. Facebook and ad networks have huge amounts of data about what sites you visit.
  • Do you walk around? That cell phone in your pocket is a huge tracking beacon. The cell phone company knows where you are at all times because they can tell which cell phone towers you’re connecting to. And when you walk through stores, they can watch for the completely unique WiFi signals that your phone is putting out and then track your path through not just that store but other stores that they are affiliated with.

The list goes on and on and on. You are the product. Companies are buying and selling your information, and thankfully, it’s almost always a benefit to us. We get discounts at stores, cash back on our credit cards, better store layouts, coupons targeted at our interests, and free websites. But if the fact that a company knows your email address creeps you out or you’re paranoid about why ads show up on one site for something you searched for on another site, then you better take a huge step back, educate yoursef and rethink your approach to all aspects of your life. Stop carrying a cell phone. Pay cash for everything. Never sign up for a frequent shopper card. Don’t use the internet. Do those four things and you’re off to a good start (but you’re not even close to done.) You might want to add a tinfoil hat to the list too.

This week I picked out a photo that shows me at about the same age that Elijah is now. Elijah is learning how to do stuff like this too. He’s starting to see more patterns and learn repeated series of events. It’s fun to watch!

Now that my job at work is 100% focused on running a product in the cloud, I’ve been spending some time at home playing around with Azure (Microsoft’s cloud offering) and wow is it impressive! I remember looking at it a couple years ago and just seeing a garbled mess that was impossible to decipher, but now it’s gotten ridiculously easy.

The biggest change is that you don’t need a credit card to get started. You can sign up for a free account and get a surprising amount of learning and experimenting done without paying a dime. This approach is much more effective than having a big barrier to entry.

Secondly, each of the Azure pieces has gotten super easy to use. Want to set up a Wordpress blog? I went from not even having an Azure account to having a functioning Wordpress site in well under 5 minutes. That’s just one of the many project templates they have all set up and ready to install.

You can choose exactly how much detail you want to manager. I saw one blog post that described Azure as giving you the choice between building your own house and living in a hotel. If you want to control everything, they’ll give you a barebones virtual machine in the cloud. If you want to have it “just work”, they’ll set up a web application host for you and you can just publish your code to them. They’ll take care of everything from there.

I’m so impressed that I’m thinking about moving off of my ancient Community Server blog code hosted on GoDaddy and switching over to Wordpress. That part is easy, but if I’m going to do this then I need to move EVERYTHING off of GoDaddy and that includes a bunch of the back end service code for CascadeSkier. It looks like that won’t be too hard but it will require a few changes and upgrades (which were long overdue anyway.)

Don’t expect any big changes right away. I’ll be picking away at this as I have free time.

We moved into our neighborhood about three years ago. The neighborhood was built in the 90s, a bunch of families moved in and raised their kids together, and apparently now they are all moving out. Since we moved in, a huge number of our immediate neighbors have sold their houses. Thankfully it wasn’t because of foreclosures or anything like that. I think it’s just a combination of their point in life and the fact that the market in our neighborhood is really hot.

Take a look at this map. The black circle is our house. Red ones have changed hands since we moved in and blue is either up for sale now or will be in the next month.

If you want to be our neighbor, you better be on your game. Almost all of these houses have sold within a few days of being listed and are going for ~10% over the asking price.

I’m thankful that we got in when we did because it looks like a pretty good point in the market history. Our sale price is roughly what it was worth back in the middle of 2005 and now the value is up ~25% back to almost the last peak. It does us very little good since we have no intention of selling, but it’s nice to be on the good end of a real estate investment for once. It gives me hope that down the road when we decide to sell, our good location will continue to make our house an easy sell.

P.S. I’ve been intentionally vague about some of these numbers because it feels a little weird to write about money. But everything here (and more) is public data that you can easily find if you know my address.

After having multiple chunks of skin cut out of my body over the last couple years, I think about UV light pretty much whenever I’m outside. There’s an interesting article on Slate about a photographer who took video of people under UV light. You can see how different skin features like freckles absorb and reflect UV light. And after watching the video, I’ll never look at sunscreen the same way again! It works by absorbing UV light so it doesn’t reach the skin. When people put it on in the video, it looks like they are smearing black tar on themselves. You can check out the video below but the article is worth a read too.

I’ve been reading some fantastic books lately, but I realized that I haven’t written a lot about them. The three best ones in the last year or so are:

1) The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss – I’ve already written once about this trilogy. The only negative point is that the third book isn’t finished yet and the first two were so good that it’s almost physically painful to wait for the third one! I heard someone say, “If you haven’t read these books or you didn’t like it, then you’re not my friend.” I won’t go quite that far, but this is one of my top three recommendations right now. You can listen to an interview with the author on the Triangulation podcast. (2,581 four and five star reviews on Amazon)

2) The Martian by Andy Weir – Technically I suppose this is sci-fi but it’s set very close to present day and is based on as much current science as possible. Tiny spoiler but in the first page or two, you realize that an astronaut gets stranded on Mars (they think he’s dead) and then he has to try and survive. It’s a bit like Robinson Crusoe on Mars. You can listen to an interview with the author on the Triangulation podcast. (4,271 four and five star reviews on Amazon)

3) Mistborn Trilogy  by Brandon Sanderson – This one is the most heavily fantasy/sci-fi of the bunch but it’s another solid recommendation. The basic concept is that there are a small subset of the population that can use various ingested metals to have a single simple super-power and an even smaller group can use all of the super-powers. The setting is a pre-technology world with an evil overlord and there are rumblings of a revolution which most people think is impossible. If I didn’t have so many other pressing responsibilities in my life, I could envision binging on three straight books. Fantastic storytelling! (980 four and five star reviews on Amazon)

If I had to pick just one book to recommend, it would probably be The Martian because it probably appeals to the broadest swath of readers. Or you can just wait a few years for a movie to come out. After the success of Gravity, I don’t see how they won’t make a movie of The Martian. Do yourself a favor and read it now.

Dad built us a great treehouse when we were kids. I’ve been thinking a lot about it wondering if I should build something for Elijah and what it might look like. Today’s throwback picture shows just how deep the wholes were for the posts.

I guess this type of photo runs in the family because I did the same thing to Elijah when I dug the hole for the irrigation backflow prevention valve.

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